Sweet, chewy and yummy: The Hualien Mochi is a glutinous rice cake that comes in a wide variety of fillings.
LIKE other Asian countries, Taiwan is also famous for its street food. Although we did not get the chance to visit any night markets, we were treated to a host of Hualien specialties by our gracious hosts.
Sunfish (mola mola)
It is a deep water species, and its texture is chewy due to the high collagen content. One restaurant in Hualien, Sankokuighi Restaurant, has come up with many ways to prepare this fish.
The flesh is suitable for braising, boiling or frying and can also be made into sashimi. The intestine is the most valuable part of the fish. It can be frozen after boiling, and then fried again as it becomes crispy. Because of its high price when prepared as sashimi, it is called “Dragon Intestines”.
We also tried a drink made from a combination of lime, wheat grass and, of course, the mola mola bits — which tasted like aloe vera.
The betelnut is popular with the aborigines because chewing on the seeds makes them stay awake. So it is not surprising that they have found ways to make use of the plant. As with most palms, the tender shoot known as palm heart, is edible. Its shoot is stir-fried with garlic or chicken and tastes really good.
Smoked tuna or katsuo is mostly produced in the Xincheng township as the fish is found in abundance in this region. The fish is gutted, cut into pieces and smoked for a few weeks. It becomes as hard as wood. A special tool is used to shave thin, flower-like petals. The shavings are eaten with soup, sprinkled on takoyaki or as is. It’s said to be highly nutritious.
These are found at Li Chuan Aquafarm in the Shoufeng township. Spring water from the Central Mountain Range and modern cultivation techniques are used to raise highly nutritious golden clams.
They are harvested after eight months when they are at the “sweetest”. When stir-fried with garlic and chilli, the dish tastes marvellous.
As tilapia and silver perch are also reared at the pond, we gave them a try too. The tilapia was smothered with rock salt and baked. Before serving, the salt crust was cracked. The fish is really delicious, and not salty at all.
The glutinous rice cake is popular with the Amis tribe, made with sweet potato, red rice and water. But now the recipe for the snack has evolved and has included fillings like sweet peanut paste, red bean, coconut, fruits and even chocolate.
This is a popular dessert with the Hualien people. It is a golden yellow square with a sweet pineapple filling. Several manufacturers of the cake have come up with new versions, like with chilli added.
Today, other than purple Hualien yams, visitors may also find a number of other creative snacks such as stuffed Hualien yam with mochi (glutinous rice cake) as a souvenir to take home to family and friends.